Is Catan a real place? It’s a question that many a gamer has thought to themselves over the past decade. Each time Settlers of Catan is played I find myself wondering about where it was actually based on if, in fact, it is based on anywhere in particular. That being said, I refuse to believe it is random, so I’ve decided to do a bit of research to find out where Catan is…or at least where could it be if it were a real place?
Is Catan A Real Place?
Let’s don our sleuth hats, Internet, and grab our magnifying glasses. To work this out we are going to need to look at a few things – so let’s start with the basics. Is Catan a real place?
The answer is: Yes.
There is, according to one blog a Catan in Paraguay; however, typing Catan into Google Maps yields no results. That being said, World Weather Online has a forecast for the small village of Catan (where it is currently clear, with a high of 23 at the time of writing) in the Neembucu region of Paraguay so it is probably a real place (just because Google can’t find it doesn’t mean it’s not real).
I could just answer this question now, but something doesn’t add up. Let’s make the assumption that the Catan we know in the game is somewhere else. This is probably not the Catan Klaus Teuber meant when he created the game…after all…Paraguay is landlocked.
What Do We Know?
To answer this question we are going to need to piece together different assortments of information from various different places. First, let’s look at the game itself. What do we know about Catan?
- It is a roughly circular island.
- It has five main resources – ore, brick, sheep, grain, and wood.
- The proportions of all five are roughly the same, with slightly more emphasis on wood, grain, and sheep. This means there are slightly more farmland and woodland than there are mountainous or clay-rich regions.
That is a fair amount to go on, however, we can do better. For this, we’re going to use several different sources from around the Internet.
- The Catan Wiki states that the original settlers came from Germany, and that they found Catan in the Atlantic Ocean (Source).
- On HistoryBuff, an interview with Klaus Teuber states that he started off thinking Catan was Iceland, but then this changed to the Azores Islands over time. In the same interview, Klaus says the settlers were first inspired by Vikings (Source).
- There is a novel, written by Rebecca Gable, which I haven’t read – but according to the Wikipedia summary, Catan is southwest of “The Land of Franks”. A bit more digging reveals that this would position the island somewhere southwest of Southern France/Eastern Germany (source).
Looking at that information, we have both a direction and a contradiction. Firstly, the direction places us in the Atlantic Ocean, around the Azores Islands; however, the origin changes depending on the source. Since Klaus Teuber created Catan, we will go with his opinion as fact. He is, after all, god to Catan.
So, It Could Be Based On The Azores Islands – That’s Sorted, Right?
Right now, I could shut my laptop off and brush my hands together, happy that we have nailed down the potential location of Catan to the Azores Islands. The good news is the Azores Islands are in the North Atlantic Ocean – so we can have one large green tick and a sticky gold star for our efforts. We could pass Catan off as based on the Azores Islands, and thus it is a fictitious island in the same region. That seems fair.
But, I feel we can do better. You see, the Azores Islands are actually a collection of nine islands, and so far we have only used three secondary data sources to determine the location of the game. What about the game itself? It may be it is just a random island in the Azores collection, or, and bear with me here – what if Catan aligns to one of them in particular? Either intentionally or unintentionally, it would be an interesting thing to find out. After all, even if it isn’t based on any particular island, it would be cool to see if we could nail down where Catan would be like if it were real. We won’t know unless we look a little deeper.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at the Azores Islands in detail.
As I said, there are nine. These are São Miguel, Terceira, Faial, Pico, São Jorge, Santa Maria, Graciosa, Flores, and Corvo. From here we need to look at what the game tells us to see which one is the most likely candidate.
Core Exports of Catan
Catan has five main resources as its core resources. These are those I mentioned above – ore, brick, sheep, grain, and wood. The easiest one of these to look for is a mountainous region for the ore. The Dictionary definition of a mountain is a natural rise in elevation, peaking off at a summit (source) and is usually 610m tall or higher.
So, with that in mind, what we need to find is the closest island (in the Azores collection) to having a mountain. That sounds simple, right?
Well, it turns out no. The Azores Islands are volcanic islands, meaning a few of them have mountains on them by the old definition of mountains – which was 1000ft. The new definition, however, in accordance with Whittow’s Dictionary of Physical Geography (oh yeah, we’re going there…via Wikipedia) (source) is a mountain is anywhere over 2000ft (610m). There is only one that tall on the Azores Islands, and that is Mt Pico, on the island of Pico located roughly in the centre of the collection.
So the Island of Pico is looking likely.
That being said, there are some other tall ones, so let’s check off the other resources to make sure.
Although I couldn’t find out for Pico specifically, I did find the (get ready for this) European Parliment Agricultural Report for the Azores Islands which states that in 2014 there were 270,775 tonnes of Green Maize grown across the islands (the main crop). There was a following 446 tonnes of Corn for Grain grown (source – page 26). Either one of these could be representative of the grain in Catan.
Rather usefully, the same page of the same report goes into the Timber production. There are 72,900 Hectares of woodland on the Azores Islands set aside for timber as of 2010. We can be more specific though and say that the Plain of Achada is an area of Pico known for its beautiful forests (source). Whether the timber specifically comes from there, I don’t know, but we can use inductive reasoning to assume it does. To do this we use the incredibly flawed statement of: “The Azores Islands export timber. Timber comes from wood. Pico is an island n the Azores archipelago. Pico has wood. Therefore, some of that timber production comes from Pico.”
This was a little trickier to hunt down as I struggled to find any reference to bricks, clay or shale (two core components in brick making) for any of the Azores Islands – leaving aside in reference to the island of Graciosa, which is famous for it (‘White Clay’ in particular – source). Graciosa, however, doesn’t have much of any of the other resources, so I’ve had to do a bit more digging.
For this, I needed to turn to alcohol (make what you will of that). The area known as Pico IPR is the wine growing region of Pico (source) where they grow grapes for all kinds of Portuguese wine. In this region there are high quantities of certain deposits in the soil – most notably though these are Basalt, Trachyte, Andesite, and, yes you guessed it, Clay.
Whether this is close enough for Catan, who am I to say? It could be a manufactured brick, or it could be a clay brick on the cards. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt here. This clay could be used for the Catan bricks. I mean, Pico has to get their bricks from somewhere, right?
Are there sheep in Pico? For this I could go back to the European Parliament document I found for the Grain and say “yes: since it’s in there” – however, there is far more interesting and visual evidence. Yes, I found a real estate/architecture video showing a prefab house, on the island of Pico, surrounded by sheep (source).
But Is Pico Island Round?
Well – no, Pico is not round like Catan. Pico is more of a tear-drop shape, which is round…if part of the circle has been pulled out to a point. It’s as if someone smeared the island whilst it was still drying. The roundest in the Azores Islands is actually Terceira, but, once again, it doesn’t have the geography.
Pico, I would say, is close enough. Since the expansions change the shape of Catan I’m not going to worry too much about it.
So…Catan is Pico Island?
Geographically speaking, in regards to produce and the majority of what we know from various sources, Pico Island is the most likely candidate for Catan if Catan were a real place. Alternatively, the Azores Islands are the most likely archipelago for Catan to be a part of if it is more just based on the concept of a real location.
In regards to the backstory, the Azores Islands are said to have been primarily discovered by the Portuguese; however, records are inconclusive. Who is to say it was not the Germans or the Vikings who found them first? It is very unlikely, due to their being no evidence of a human society pre the Portuguese discovery in the fifteenth century, but it is possible.
What do you think? Is Catan a random island? Could it be Pico? Is it somewhere else entirely? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
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